Boundless Borders

A family of 12-plus brings hope and heritage to the season of giving.

Mother of 10, Natalie Runyon, recently visited the island country of Haiti, homeland of three of her children, including her oldest, Eliana Runyon, 21. The duo make regular trips to the impoverished nation, supporting the sustainable employment of its people by bringing singular special treasures to the United States through Gifts That Give Hope, under the umbrella of “Espwa Collective,” originally founded by Natalie and Eliana. Espwa, pronounced Esp-Waaaa, is a Creole word for hope.

“When we toured Haiti Design Company, one of the artisans explained to us that they don’t want people to buy their products to support ‘poor Haitians,’ rather they wanted people to buy their goods because they are beautiful and well-made,” the elder Runyon explained.

The second annual Gifts That Give Hope Holiday Pop-Up Boutique, presented by Espwa Collective, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Dec. 1, Saturday, at Lifehouse Church, 3825 Seminary St., Alton, Illinois. Gifts That Give Hope Holiday Pop-Up Boutique is open to the public and free to attend.

“It’s close to Alton High, and the same weekend as the craft fair, so we are hoping people will take advantage of the proximity of the two events,” Runyon said.

On a previous visit to Haiti, during a mission trip, she discovered a way to offer Fair Trade merchandise to Southwestern Illinois, while helping Haitians working their way out of poverty through sustainable employment opportunities, such as making jewelry, wall hangings, decorative household items and clothing.

“My hope with Espwa Collective is to bring a carefully curated collection of products to this area,” said Runyon, who sells items throughout the year at The Gift Box in both Alton and Maryville, Illinois. “Each artisan group I buy from pays their employees a fair and living wage and many offer other benefits, such as English classes, matching savings plans and on-site daycare.”

The issue is close to the whole Godfrey, Illinois’ family’s heart. Of 10 siblings, Natalie and Michael Runyon adopted three of their children from an orphanage in Haiti more than 11 years ago. Giving back is the simple reason Natalie conceived of Gifts That Give Hope, founded in partnership with Eliana. Natalie’s parents, Kim and Lonnie Harmon, of Alton, Illinois, also adopted Natalie’s six siblings from the same Haitian orphanage; the entire Runyon family, as well as the extended Harmon family are involved with Gifts That Give Hope.

The impetus for the mission trip, more than a year ago, came from the Runyons’ third eldest child, Meghan Runyon, 16, who wanted to go on a mission trip. After that trip with the Healing Haiti organization through The Bridge church, Natalie Runyon met and inspired a like-minded member of The Bridge, Penny Waltz, of Alton. The two joined together to embark on Gifts That Give Hope’s charitable adventure. Subsequently, Natalie founded Espwa Collective.

The many mission tasks that the Runyons and their team completed included distribution of drinking water in Haiti’s CiteSoleil, the Western hemisphere’s largest multi-neighborhood slum city, built at sea level on a garbage dump, where its residents must rely on trucked-in drinking water. Healing Haiti donates 3,000 gallons to CiteSoleil once a week. This, and other trip experiences, led to a quandary for the Runyons, left wondering how Haitians can sustain themselves if they don’t have jobs or occupations.

Natalie saw pockets of sustainable examples of employment opportunities during the trip. Typically, artisans all over the world have nowhere to sell their items, she noted.

For example, the Runyons visited Papillon (French for butterfly), a retailer supported by U.S. nonprofit Apparent Project. Here, Natalie discovered that the nonprofit sent Papillon’s retail items, such as bracelets, to U.S. sellers to raise funds for Haitians. Anything the seller didn’t sell, they could ship back — without obligation — to the nonprofit.

“I realized that holding occupations would serve Haitians — as well or better — than non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian aid, though I still support both,” she said.

Papillon, owned by an American woman who adopted children from Haiti, as well as a similar boutique owned by Haitians, also visited by Runyon, supplied jobs to other women, but they had no one to care for their children while at work. Many Haitian parents leave their children to orphanages simply because they cannot afford to care for them; but, Papillon’s owner started a daycare, which also supplied jobs.

“I thought it was inspiring, like going to the orphanage, but it was even better seeing how jobs prevent a need for an orphanage,” Runyon said. “Since Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, for every $100 given to the Caribbean country in humanitarian aid, only $1.62 went to Haitian contractors; the rest went to NGOs. Those are profiting from human suffering. Social enterprise versus humanitarian aid is not about a handout, which doesn’t provide dignity, but a job brings pride.”

Now, through Gifts That Give Hope, selling Fair Trade retail items — made sustainably through sustainable sources — support those who are sustainably employed and making the items.

Fair Trade products at Gifts That Give Hope Holiday Pop-Up Boutique will include, from Haiti: Second Story Goods, Peacecycle, Go Rings, Gift of Hope, Papillon Enterprises, Deux Mains, Hand Up Global Goods, Haiti Mama and Haiti Design Co.; from Kenya, East Africa, Grain of Rice Project; from India, Rahab’s Rope; from Oaxaca, Mexico, Laadi Designs; from Bond County, Illinois, Eden’s Glory, which works with U.S. victims of human trafficking; from St. Louis, Switch Coffee Collective; and others include, Mia Tribe, which works with Syrian refugees in Greece, and Branded Collective, made up of U.S. victims of human trafficking.

American Honey Life Photography will be offering family photography mini-sessions throughout the weekend. These can be booked by contacting them directly at, its Facebook page or by calling 618-420-8911. Sessions will cost $35 for 10 minutes and guests will receive three digital photos.

Many sustainably employed people crafting the Gifts That Give Hope products make enough in wages to support their families and can even buy small amounts of property, Runyon explained. These citizens worked themselves out of poverty by making and supplying the sustainably-made merchandise, either individually, through collectives or through nonprofit humanitarian agencies’ outlets. This made sense to make Haitians and others similarly employed through other outlets, such as Illinois’ own Eden’s Glory, the benefactors.

Thus Espwa Collective works with companies that readily agreed to supply products that — through sales — would come back to those involved in the sustainable production of the merchandise, thereby providing those employees a steady occupation. Companies agreed to allow Espwa Collective to ship back what doesn’t sell at the pop-up boutique.

Runyon, and her husband, who works at Phillips 66 refinery in Wood River, Illinois, are the parents of Eliana, 21, born in Haiti, who works for the Madison County Treasurer’s Office; Madeline, 18; Meghan, 16; Bella, 14, born in Haiti; their only son, Jude, 14, born in Haiti; Eva, 10; Joyanna, 8; Sophia, 7; Brooklyn, 5; and, Emilia, 4.

The Runyons and Natalie’s parents independently adopted their children through a Haiti-based agency, For His Glory Adoption Outreach.

For more information about Gifts That Give Hope email Natalie at and follow her Espwa Collective Facebook group and Instagram page.

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Natalie Runyon